NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2008

For the first time, Hispanic, black, Asian and other nonwhite residents account for half the population of the nation's largest cities, according to new census figures.

Further, the data document a rapidly growing ethnic diversity in small-town America as well:

  • In 2000, the Census Bureau found that non-Hispanic whites were 52.3 percent of the people in the central cities of all metropolitan areas.
  • In the latest count, that share had declined to 50.2 percent.
  • The decline among whites in the suburbs was even more pronounced, to less than 72 percent from nearly 76 percent.
  • In rural areas, the share of whites declined slightly, that of blacks remained the same, and the proportion of Asians and especially Hispanics increased.

The figures, from a three-year combined count taken by the bureau's American Community Survey in 2005-7, offers a first detailed look since the 2000 census at the growing diversity of small-town America: towns and counties of 20,000 to 65,000 people.  "What we found was that in large part, they look a lot like the total population," said Scott Boggess, survey coordinator for household and economic statistics.

Many of the small towns, some of them home to colleges, mirrored changes taking place in cities and suburbs:

  • Of the 50,000 people age 5 or over in Dallas County, Iowa, for instance, the number who speak a language other than English at home rose 69 percent from 2000, to 4,200.
  • In Enterprise, Nev., population 65,000, which led small-town growth for every major racial group, the Hispanic population grew by a factor of five, to 9,800, and the Asian population grew thirteenfold, to 10,200.

"Not only are new immigrant minorities spreading away from metropolitan areas, but they are now moving to small places, both within, outside and far beyond traditional settlements," said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer.

Source: Sam Roberts, "In Biggest U.S. Cities, Minorities Are at 50%," New York Times, December 9, 2008.

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